Preventing Suicide: It’s What A Good Friend Does

The essay first appeared on Patch.com
A little over two weeks ago, we had yet another teen suicide in our fair city, the SIXTH in just two years. School officials, town leadership, parents, students, neighbors are all asking themselves, “How could we have prevented this?” “What can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again?” My heart goes out to the families and friends involved, but with all this breast-beating and general flailing about, these tragedies still somehow seem so far away. Unreal really. Almost inconceivable. Until now.
Last week, my son got a message on Facebook from one of his friends. She was despondent and said she didn’t know if life was worth living anymore. He called her and they spoke.  He didn’t know what “suicidal” sounded like, but what he heard from her did not sound good. He knew she had been dealing with family issues and that the social scene at her school was weighing her down. He also knew she has a tendency to like a little drama. Was this just a stunt to get some attention? Or, was this a real cry for help? Weighty issues for a sixteen-year-old to tackle.

I wish my son had come to me with his concerns, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to betray his friend. He was worried she would be angry with him for talking to anyone about what was going on. He was more worried about the tone in her voice and nature of her words. Finally, my son reached out to the counselor at his school. The counselor said just the right thing, “A real friend sometimes has to risk the friendship in order to help someone they care for.” She offered to call the counselor at the girl’s school and begin the long journey of getting my son’s friend the help she truly needs.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked him when he finally did.

“Oh Mom, you would have made a big deal of it.”

Uh, yeah. Duh. But that was just what he didn’t want. He didn’t want me to call her parents, whom I do not know. He didn’t want me to call the school, the police or, god forbid, the girl herself. So instead, he did exactly the right thing. He turned to the professionals who are trained to deal with this, and in doing so, he just may have saved her life.

I hope one day my son’s friend will come to understand what a true friend she has in him. In the meantime, I am coming to understand my son is one step closer to adulthood and, sadly, one step farther away from me.

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